Tag: bloggingheads

The GOP Foreign Policy Establishment Is Still Neoconservative

Karl Rove’s and Ed Gillespie have written a piece arguing that the conventional wisdom is wrong because a) foreign policy can be made into a big issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, and b) Obama is vulnerable on the subject. I did not find the piece persuasive at all, and my disagreement with it has produced not just a podcast on the subject, but an appearance on bloggingheads. The University of Kentucky’s Robert Farley and I discuss a range of subjects, from the Rove/Gillespie piece, to burning Qurans in Afghanistan, to the future of U.S.-China relations. To give you a flavor, here’s a clip where I denounce the GOP foreign policy establishment:

For what it’s worth, I think the only way to solve the problem I identify above is a decades-long project to build a counter-counterestablishment of foreign policy thinkers who could staff the foreign policy wing of a notionally sensible GOP presidential candidate. I have not yet read this book, but in reading reviews of it, my understanding is that it does a good job describing how the neocons built their counterestablishment, which I think by now has essentially become the establishment. The neoconservative insurgency benefited from remarkable largesse from their funders, a large bench of aspiring policy professionals, and a sharp-elbowed ability to successfully fight within bureaucracies. If people wish to reverse the course of GOP foreign policy, I suspect a similar effort will be needed on the part of realists. (We’re working on it. Happy to talk to any Democrats, too.)

For the entire bloggingheads video, go here. For my podcast on the Rove/Gillespie piece, go here. For my prior denunciation of the Beltway foreign-policy establishment, here.

My thanks to Farley and the bloggingheads people for having me on.

A Response to Intel Abuses at Last?

As I explain in yesterday’s BloggingHeads dialogue with Eli Lake, I’m chary of relying too much on legislative “sunset” provisions to check abuse of power, especially in the shadowy world of intelligence. (For the fleshed-out version of the argument, see Chris Mooney’s 2004 piece in Legal Affairs.) After all, in January, the Office of the Inspector General had released an absolutely damning report showing that for years, FBI agents systematically manipulated their incredibly broad National Security Letter authorities to get information about Americans telephone usage without following any legitimate legal process at all. To cover those abuses, officials compounded their crimes by lying to federal courts and refusing to use an auditable computer system for their information requests.  The report was released amid debate over what reforms should be included in the reauthorization of several controversial Patriot Act provisions, with proposed changes to the NSL statutes front and center—not least because several courts had found constitutional problems with the gag orders accompanying NSLs. Yet just a month later, Congress consented to an extension of those Patriot provisions without implementing any of the various rather mild changes that had won approval in the House or Senate Judiciary Committees. If a sunset-inspired review didn’t yield any real consequences then, I thought, what would it take?

Today, however, I see a there are glimmers of interest in something more closely resembling serious oversight. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, sent last month but released yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) urges DOJ to implement many of the reforms in the SJC’s bill voluntarily—above all procedures to guarantee a detailed record of the grounds on which various types of information sought, and to govern the retention, use, and distribution of information obtained. Leahy also signals his intent to ask department watchdogs to conduct audits of the use of Patriot authorities, as the Senate’s bill had stipulated. These are all, needless to say, good ideas—provided we don’t accept voluntary and mutable internal guidelines as a substitute for statutory limits with teeth.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is holding Wednesday morning hearings on the abuses detailed in the Inspector General’s report. FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni and IG Glenn Fine are slated to testify. (There are links to their prepared testimony already, though the documents themselves aren’t there yet as I write.) Extrapolating from past performances, I predict Caproni will allow that the abuses described were Very Serious Indeed (though, really, perhaps not quite as serious as all that…) but all cleaned up now. Nobody should be satisfied with this, and if Fine doesn’t broach the subject himself, somebody really ought to ask Caproni about some minimization procedures for the 25,000–50,000 National Security Letters the department issues annually. As Fine noted in recent testimony, the Bureau has been promising this for years now:

In August 2007, the NSL Working Group sent the Attorney General its report and proposed minimization procedures. However, we had several concerns with the findings and recommendations of the Working Group’s report, which we discussed in our March 2008 NSL report. In particular, we disagreed with the Working Group about the sufficiency of existing privacy safeguards and measures for minimizing the retention of NSL-derived information. We disagreed because the controls the Working Group cited as providing safeguards predated our NSL reviews, yet we found serious abuses of the NSL authorities.

As a result, the Acting Privacy Officer decided to reconsider the recommendations and withdrew them. The Working Group has subsequently developed new recommendations for NSL minimization procedures, which are still being considered within the Department and have not yet been issued. We believe that the Department should promptly consider the Working Group’s proposal and issue final minimization procedures for NSLs that address the collection of information through NSLs, how the FBI can upload NSL information in FBI databases, the dissemination of NSL information, the appropriate tagging and tracking of NSL derived information in FBI databases and files, and the time period for retention of NSL obtained information. At this point, more than 2 years have elapsed since after our first report was issued, and final guidance is needed and overdue.

Way, way overdue—much like some kind of serious congressional response to the Bureau’s NSL Calvinball.

Is Money Fungible?

Recently I spent some time redecorating my office to create room such that there was space for me to work that was physically apart from my computer, because I’ve come to view the internet as a huge time sink.

Apparently this endeavor of mine has failed miserably, however, because here I am blogging about something I saw on Bloggingheads TV:

In the clip above, Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner discuss arguments that involve posing tradeoffs between domestic spending and foreign policy spending.  Drezner sketches out an argument he ties to Obama’s Afghanistan speech: we’re in a big hole at home and we just can’t afford running around throwing hundreds of billions of dollars into places like Afghanistan and Iraq, so part of what we’re trying to do is cash out of those endeavors and keep the money we could spend there at home instead.  Hurlburt describes this as part of the argument Cato’s foreign policy team–Chris Preble in particular–has been making, but that says that this approach is “not going to happen because it would seem like a public admission that there are constraints on what we can do, even though we would agree that there are massive constraints on what we can do.”

Hurlburt goes on to say that “our economy can’t recover unless the global economy recovers” and that “a big part of how quickly and in what directions our economy recovers” has to do with the U.S.-China relationship and the development of green jobs.  Therefore, the “classic isolationist trope” of what Drezner described–doing less abroad so we can do more at home–doesn’t work.

I’m completely lost here.  (If the kind people at BH.tv would invite me on, I could explain in vivid and expressive detail!)

First, let me register at least my dissent from the view that we can’t maintain an expansionist foreign policy.  I have been a convert for some time to the view of Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth that there is nothing in the foreseeable future that will force the abandonment of a primacy grand strategy.  In fact, I would make this point forcefully, not just that we could maintain an expansionist foreign policy, but that we probably could do so even assuming a costly invasion of Iraq every so often and still manage to skirt any powerful constraint.  Despite the declinism that has come into fashion of late, my view is that we’re still in uncharted waters, still in an international system that is obviously unipolar, and consequently still capable of adopting all sorts of wild and crazy foreign policies.

But the bigger point that’s confusing me is Hurlburt’s argument that something about the economic ties between China and the United States or the alleged need to shift to green jobs necessitates an interventionist foreign policy.  Unless I’m misconstruing her remarks, which is possible, I’m not understanding this argument at all.  We spend lots of money–hundreds of billions per year–on things we call “defense” or “homeland security” that have little to do with defending the United States.  I think what we at Cato have argued is that we should stop spending so much money on these things, and that instead we should dramatically scale back our commitments, cut military spending dramatically, and willfully give up our aggressive grand strategy.  Money is fungible and this isn’t the best use for this money.

To draw what is maybe a poor analogy, Robin Hanson has argued not just that overall spending on health is a poor predictor of aggregate health, but that in fact you could probably cut overall spending on health in half without a significant negative effect on aggregate health.  I’m making a similar argument about defense, with the implicit claim that the excess funds we spend on defense could be better spent elsewhere.

It seems like Hurlburt is disagreeing with this view, but I’m not sure.  I’m emailing her to see whether she cares to expand on this, so perhaps there’ll be more to come.  Until then, it’s time for me to push back from the internet again.

Frum’s World

David Frum’s new vehicle is called “Frum Forum,” but judging from this debate over American foreign policy with Andrew Bacevich on Bloggingheads, it might as well be called “Frum’s Alternate Universe.”  The clip below features Frum arguing that U.S. foreign policymakers’ views on Indochina in 1965 were “right and smart.”  At one point Bacevich furrows his brow and incredulously asks “David, are you reviving the domino theory?”  It’s like another dramatic reading of Jack Snyder’s Myths of Empire.  Have a look:

Bloggingheads on Afghanistan

Last night, CBS reported that President Obama has decided to send “four combat brigades plus thousands more support troops” giving Gen. Stanley McChystal “most, if not all, the additional troops he is asking for.”

If the story is accurate (and the White House, via National Security Advisor James Jones, says it is not), the bloggingheads diavlog that I recorded with Peter Beinart late Friday, and that went live yesterday afternoon, could be safely filed under “Day Late, Dollar Short.”

But I hope that is not the case for two reasons. First, I continue to hold out hope that President Obama will choose instead to focus our counterterrorism efforts in other ways, and in other places, instead of deepening our involvement in what is already the longest war in our history. And if he hasn’t made up his mind, perhaps my arguments (which build on those of my colleagues Malou Innocent and Ted Galen Carpenter, and many others) might still have an impact.

Second, if the president has decided to follow the advice of those who called for more troops (most of whom – it is worth noting – were also leading advocates for the disastrous Iraq war), it is important for those of us who harbored doubts to have publicly registered our concerns.

A similar willingness to speak out on the part of some Iraq war skeptics within the foreign policy community was sorely lacking in 2002 and 2003. Perhaps that unhappy experience has reminded people that the time for raising concerns is before, not after, a decision is made to escalate a war.

David Frum Analyzes Why ‘The Crazies’ Are Running the GOP

In a discussion on Bloggingheads, David Frum offers his thoughts on the sad state of the GOP these days:

He blames the predicament, in part, on the “conservative entertainment-industrial complex,” a term coined by Andrew Sullivan.  In Frum’s telling, this complex has “distorted conservative dialogue to suit the wishes of the Fox audience.”  He says that drawing on such a group, “you can get seriously rich out of that, but you can’t govern a country with that kind of voter base, it’s a tiny minority-within-a-minority.”

This is an interesting thesis.  Frum was the coauthor of a seemingly successful, widely discussed foreign-policy book titled An End to Evil, which posited that terrorism posed a “threat to the survival of our nation,” and in foreign policy, “there is no middle way for Americans.  It is victory or Holocaust.”  Are these the sorts of carefully considered judgments on which the GOP is going to ride back into office?

It’s probably true that pushing the American nationalist button over and over from 2002 forward contributed to getting Bush reelected in 2004, but the results after then have been rather less encouraging.  John Boehner colorfully remarked recently that the GOP “took it in the shorts with Bush-Cheney, the Iraq War, and by sacrificing fiscal responsibility to hold power.”  I’m not sure that my preferred foreign policy is the key to political success, but I’m pretty sure that the zany world view that Frum has traded on isn’t the way forward either.